Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall (1937)

“You want adventure, don’t you? And it’s here — here in this house.”

When a wealthy but cantankerous woman (Dame May Whitty) hires the boyfriend (Robert Montgomery) of her pregnant housemaid (Merle Tottenham) as a handyman, Whitty’s suspicious niece (Rosalind Russell) is both wary and intrigued — especially as news continues to circulate about a mysterious murder nearby.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Inheritance
  • Murder Mystery
  • Robert Montgomery Films
  • Rosalind Russell Films

Robert Montgomery is appropriately enigmatic and charming in this adaptation of Welsh writer-actor Emlyn Williams’ play, which — like Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — effectively showcases both the dangers of unwarranted trust and the need for “amateur sleuths” to keep a keen eye about them when a handsome stranger is on the scene. Russell plays nicely against type as a mousy young woman with a yen for darker matters, and Oscar-nominated Whitty is spot-on — but it’s Montgomery who really shines here: it’s all-too-easy to understand how he uses his sociopathic charms to wing his way cleverly into Whitty’s graces. (I like how Montgomery convincingly demonstrates the mental anguish he seems to be suffering from as well.) Despite a few minor narrative quibbles — see Moria’s review — this story keeps us consistently curious how things will end, and is worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Montgomery as Danny
  • Rosalind Russell as Olivia
  • Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Bramson
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a unique and well-acted thriller.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Night Must Fall (1937)

  1. A must-see, for its place in cinema history – as a representative example of a successful screen version of a well-made play.

    Gripping throughout, this is simply a tale well-told. Under Richard Thorpe’s solid direction, the cast gives rather effective performances, with Montgomery indeed being a standout in some of his best work. My favorite, though, is Kathleen Harrison as housekeeper Mrs. Terence – one of those fastidious, no-nonsense women of the type often in found in the domestic works of Noel Coward. (Harrison would go on to appear in ‘In Which We Serve’ in 1942.)

    Note: In 1999, Christopher Durang re-fashioned Montgomery’s character (complete with mysterious ‘hatbox’) for one of his best dark comedies, ‘Betty’s Summer Vacation’.

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